Have you ever felt like no one is ever really there for you?
Have you ever really tried to be there for someone and yet they just won’t let you?
When I was a teenage girl, I had a wide variety of friends. I don’t mean I was popular. I was able to strike up conversation with just about anybody and enjoyed doing so, which meant a lot of people knew who I was and didn’t much care about me either way. “Pretty nice” was a good descriptor. But I did have my handful of close friends, and these were also varied. A couple were friends from childhood, a couple were seen as the classic rebel type in my social circle, and a couple didn’t feel like they fit in anywhere.
As we grew up, my close and not-so-close friends began making choices. Some of those choices stunk. Some I didn’t understand. Some I did understand, but wished they hadn’t chosen. Some didn’t have much choice at all. And to be fair, some were great choices that have had great consequences in their adult lives. As I watched my peers shift and change through adolescence and young adulthood, I got really anxious. I was angry at feeling helpless. I was obsessing over people’s potential and furious with them for throwing it away. So many of them started to go through things with which I couldn’t relate anymore. Some of the rebellion deserved the adjective more than I thought possible for people I knew and cared about. Some of my friends died.
Through all this, I became more and more angsty. I was beyond frustrated that I couldn’t make people my age see what they were doing to themselves, their families, their friends. I lashed out at my parents, my little brother (ironic, I know) because I was overwhelmed with watching so many lives run into the ground so young. I spent those teenage hours holed up in my room, listening to music that understood me. Finally, I asked my mom one day what I could do for these people. How could I be a good friend to someone whose parents were getting divorced, to someone who turned away from God, to someone who went out drinking, to someone who felt so lonely life didn’t seem worth the trouble anymore, to someone who didn’t feel worthwhile unless someone else wanted to sleep with them?
My mom spoke to me about the reality of praying for people, giving Scripture instead of advice (even if it was a paraphrase), and not trying to control people–instead, to love them. I’m so grateful I grew up with a mom who instinctively understood mercy, because it was not my area of expertise! I started to learn about loving someone from far away when they won’t let you come close. I learned about loving someone who thinks they are unlovable. I learned about being faithful to speak God’s truth, even if it means repeating something a million times. And I saw God make a difference in people. Sometimes through me, but more often through circumstances and relationships I didn’t even know were happening. I saw friends who needed truth, desperately desired truth as much as they hated the exposure, come back again and again to tough conversations about God’s perspective.
What I can see, looking back to ten or fifteen years ago, is how little people are truly known in life. Think about it. Who do you know that will have gut-wrenching sobfest conversations with you? Not many. Who would YOU turn to if your life crumbled to ashes around your feet? It gets lonely when you’re in pain and scared to move. Whenever I’ve felt that way, I eventually remember two things–
1) Jesus had 12 close friends and of those 12, confided in 3, and
2) God is the only one who can ever understand me completely.
It’s okay that we don’t strip ourselves down to the naked soul with absolutely everyone. We couldn’t handle that many intimate relationships. That goes both ways, too. Sometimes you’re the one feeling bereft of true friends, feeling as though no one gets what you’re going through. Other times, you’re the one chasing after someone who is hurting, trying to be their best friend and they choose someone else for the job. Either way, God is the only one who can actually do anything for that person’s soul. He’s the only one you can always turn to.
So before you think you have the perfect advice for someone who is struggling, take a deep breath. Before you think it’s time that person got face-to-face with some hard reality, take a long, deep breath. Pray for that person. Not just for 15 minutes before you pick up the phone but for a few days or a week or even a month. Pray until you finally see that person as God sees them, till your heart breaks and you recognize you don’t know everything they’re going throug. And when you do finally decide to say something, start with “I’m here for you.” What that person needs, what we all need when we’ve hit rock bottom, is our God. Not the perfect advice. Not someone to push us to our potential. There are times for that, sure, but don’t assume your timing is perfect for someone else’s life.
When you really, really love someone, you’ll have the patience to let them heal and the self-control to let them do so without your well-meaning assistance.
From a girl who has learned a bit of this lesson,
P.S. I can never leave a topic one-sided, so having said all of the above–as soon as God says “move” you better move! Offer what you are able, speak when you have the chance, let it get uncomfortable if it has to, but don’t cower in the corner and worry over what God wants you to do. When it’s time to step in, to BE the person that actively supports, do it with all the strength of God behind you.